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TELEVISION REVIEW

Check out hotels behind the scene

'Babylon' is fiction and 'Parker' is reality, but either way, the hospitality staffs see drama and comedy serving the finicky rich.

August 08, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

"Imagine yourself living in a world where everything works, everything shines, everything is where it should be," says Charlie (Max Beesley), the narrator-star of the series "Hotel Babylon," newly imported by BBC America. "Well, you can -- you've just got to move into a hotel."

A diverting look at the high-end hospitality business from the point of view of the people who make it hospitable -- Charlie is the Hotel Babylon's new deputy manager, up from head receptionist -- "Babylon" is the coincidental fictional twin of Bravo's recently premiered and also quite watchable "Welcome to the Parker," a workplace-reality show set at a pricey Palm Springs spa.

It's surprising there aren't more shows set in hotels, actually. Besides giving a producer a built-in reason for new guests weekly, a hotel is practically a metaphor for life: You check in, you check out, somebody else has to clean up the mess you leave.

Although the fictional "Babylon" is based on a book (by Imogen Edwards-Jones and "Anonymous") that purports to tell tales of real hotel madness, the ostensibly factual "Parker" comes across, as most such shows do, as highly manipulated. But both get to more or less the same place. "Babylon" does have the dramatic advantage of being as wild as it wants to be, with rock stars and prostitutes and potential suicides, while the real version is constrained by who's willing to sign a release and the natural inclination of most hotel guests to keep cameras out of their business. There is, for the same reason, more sex in "Babylon," although "The Parker" does have a man who wants to fill his bathtub with ice.

"Welcome to the Parker" is a type of series in which Bravo lately seems determined to specialize, the reality show about people who live to serve (or exploit, if you prefer) the finicky rich: see "Blow Out," "Work Out," "Million Dollar Listing," the new "Flipping Out" (in which expensive homes are remade into even more expensive homes). I don't know what this says about who we are now, but it seems to presage a near future in which one will either be rich or in a service industry -- in the ruling or the name-tag class. It's vaguely feudal, in an All-American free-market sort of way.

Like the made-up Babylon, the Parker is a place where, "for the right money and the right people," anything can happen. I would never claim that there isn't an art in keeping happy the ranks of the entitled, or that the satisfaction one might take in doing that job well is any less worthwhile than what I'm doing right now. John the concierge, Rocio the chef, Nathaniel the room-service waiter, Michael C the restaurant manager, Michael T the new catering sales manager, Andrea the peppy sales rep, Thomas the German general manager and Samir the Moroccan hotel manager -- all of them seem like nice people, even if Samir does fret a little much about Woody Allen's fruit bowl.

For all the real drama that must attend their jobs, the screen drama seems highly imposed. The staff have already been tested by a visit from the hotel's interior designer, Jonathan Adler -- also a judge on Bravo's "Top Design," to keep it all in the family) -- and one from an "international food critic" whose credentials, when you look them up, consist of an Internet radio show and some reviews for an Orange County lifestyle magazine. "Her comments can either make you or break you," we are disingenuously told. Most distressing are the "16 fun-loving Hollywood players" -- those words alone would make me decamp to a quiet room in Indio -- who take over the hotel's nicest residence for a pingpong tournament and trash it in a night of alcoholic idiocy. Slightly more astonishing than their behavior is that they would let it go out on TV, although, of course, that fact may have just encouraged them.

Set in the New Swinging London, "Hotel Babylon" is willfully bright and sexy -- like the Parker's d├ęcor, it updates a '70s sensibility -- but also has a nice eye for detail, good minor characters and well-flowing dialogue. Most important, it has Beesley, a natural and likable actor who made a good impression some years back in an adaptation of "Tom Jones," who strikes me as a kind of English Jason Bateman. That is to say, he has a way with decency -- in spite of a shady past, he's the show's moral, though not moralistic, center.

Among those doing good work around him are Dexter Fletcher (who long ago was Babyface in "Bugsy Malone") as Tony the concierge and Tamzin Outhwaite as Rebecca the hotel manager. It's worth checking out -- or do I mean checking in?

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Welcome to the Parker'

Where: Bravo

When: 10 to 11 p.m. Thursdays

Rating: TV-14 (may be inappropriate for viewers under the age of 14)

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'Hotel Babylon'

Where: BBC America

When: 9 tonight

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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